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Leading authorities in the folk art field will present talks on the themes and ideas explored in the exhibition "A Perfect Likeness": Folk Portraits and Early Photography, part of Fenimore Art Museum’s Annual Americana Series.

The exhibition, “A Perfect Likeness”: Folk Portraits and Early Photography, which opens the same day and is on view through December 31, 2015, illustrates how early photography contributed to the demise of folk portraiture in the 1840-50 period. Established painters were deeply affected by the invention of the daguerreotype and their reactions to this early photographic method varied.

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A 1930s shoeshine stand bedecked with gilded knobs and beaded fringe, which was once exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art — where it played a role in a famous director’s ouster — resurfaced last month and is headed back into the public eye.

The Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., purchased the imaginatively decorated stand, which was created by an Italian immigrant bootblack, Giovanni Indelicato, who ran a makeshift booth on lower Broadway and sometimes went by the name Joe Milone. The Fenimore bought it a few weeks ago for $10,000, after the New York folklorist Joseph Sciorra of Queens College, a specialist in Italian-American culture, alerted the museum, which has a specialty in American folk art, that the piece had re-emerged after decades in obscurity.

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Winslow Homers in the shadow of a defunct Beech-Nut baby food plant. A Rembrandt, Picasso, Rubens and Renoir up the hill from a paper mill. The founder of the Hudson River School vying for attention amid baseball memorabilia and old farm machinery.

There are plenty of treasures to be found among the collections of lesser-known, off-the-beaten-path art museums dotting upstate New York. But they're well worth the trek for anyone looking for great art in unexpected places, whether it's the rolling, bucolic countryside typical of many areas or the industrial grittiness of riverside mill towns.

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Two years ago, the Folk Art Museum in New York City was on the brink of closure due to its poor financial standing. Most of the museum’s troubles stemmed from a $32 million construction project that placed a flagship building next door to the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street in Manhattan. After the project drew to a close in 2001, the Folk Art Museum struggled to pay off their debt to the Trust for Cultural Resources and in 2009 the institution defaulted on its payments. Desperate, the Folk Art Museum sold their flagship building and moved into a smaller space and drastically reduced its budget.

Now, after some major sacrifices, it appears that the Folk Art Museum has regained its footing. Attendance is expected to reach 80,000 this fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2013; last year the Folk Art Museum welcomed 66,000 patrons. A number of major donors are back on board with the museum including the Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund, which recently gifted $25,000 to the institution. The Folk Art Museum will also participate in this summer’s highly anticipated Venice Biennale by sending an artwork from its collection to the show.

The Folk Art Museum has been strengthening its relationships with other institutions through collaborative exhibitions. The museum is currently hosting an exhibition of William Matthew Prior (1806-1873) oil paintings titled Artist and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed (on view through May 26, 2013), which was organized by the Fenimore Art Museum is Cooperstown, NY. The exhibition Bill Traylor: Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, which features a range of works by the self-taught artist, Bill Traylor (1854-1949), will open on June 11 and run through September 22, 2013.

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New York’s American Folk Art Museum has mounted an exhibition devoted to the notable Boston-based itinerant folk portraitist William Matthew Prior (1806-1873). Artist and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed was organized by the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York and features over 40 oil paintings spanning Prior’s career from 1824 to 1856.

Prior, who moved from Maine to Boston in 1840, is best known for his paintings of working-class Americans, a demographic that had previously been overlooked by artists. Prior developed a simple, straightforward style to meet the tastes and means of his humble clientele, which often included families and children. However, Prior went on to depict a diverse range of sitters that included himself, a famous preacher, and a number of African Americans. Prior often shifted his style from modest to elaborate based on his subject.  

Artist and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed, which is the first comprehensive museum retrospective to focus on Prior, will be on view through May 26, 2013.

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Edward Hopper makes us all voyeurs. His best-known works allow us to watch people so absorbed that they are not only indifferent to what goes on around them, but also completely unaware of our presence. Sometimes our viewpoint is indeterminate. At other times, we are outside in the dark, peering unobserved into nondescript hotel rooms and lobbies, middle-class apartments and middle-management offices, automats and late-night bars. Everything has the illicit appeal of a lighted room glimpsed as we pass by on a bus.

Perhaps because of this overtone of the forbidden, Hopper also turns us into storytellers. The insignificant, quintessentially American moments that he allows us to see become imminent dramas, full of meaning. The potency of his pictures ultimately depends on firm structure and the play of light—when the implicit narrative seems more important than the formal elements, the pictures shift uncomfortably toward illustration—but it's hard to resist speculating upon what led up to the ambiguous situation before us and what the outcome might be. As his preparatory drawings reveal, Hopper often conflated many accumulated observations into a single image, but his paintings can seem so specific about time, place, social stratum and more, that they can approach the stop-time realm of photography or the fictive reality of cinema.

That evocative specificity is why movie directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, have looked to Hopper for inspiration. It's also what generated the one-act opera "Later the Same Evening," with music by John Musto and libretto by Mark Campbell, performed at this season's Glimmerglass Festival. In it, the dispassionately rendered personages from five of Hopper's most celebrated urban interiors—"Room in New York," "Hotel Window," "Hotel Room," "Two on the Aisle" and "Automat"—become named characters; reproductions of the paintings hang in a neat row across the set. We learn the characters' back stories and receive hints of their futures. They come together at a performance of a musical, a conceit suggested by "Two on the Aisle," which depicts an almost empty theater as the first audience members arrive. Then everyone separates, except for the young woman from "Automat" and an interpolated young man.

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